- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Ignore the just-solved mystery about that ill-advised fourth-and-18 scamper that New York Jets punter Steve Weatherford unilaterally tried and failed on Sunday during a 9-0 loss to Green Bay -- "Who was the dumba-- that called that fake?" crusty Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff muttered into the microphone Thursday in his first public remarks about the play -- and the Jets may have pulled off the biggest upset of the first half of the NFL season last Sunday.
In a league that has full-blown circuses going on with the Wade Phillips watch in Dallas, McNabb-gate in Washington, the agitating for Tim Tebow Era to begin for 2-6 Denver and the Minnesota Favres involved in another handoff of suddenly-radioactive receiver Randy Moss -- this time to Tennessee, where the outspoken owner has been known to decree the starting QB -- have you noticed what news has been coming out of Jets headquarters lately?
Nothing much -- except, OK, the renegade punter.
And that's the point.
The idea that the Jets, of all people, actually don't have some circus swirling around them anymore in a league suddenly full of them is stunning, if you think about it. Remember the state of the Jets by the time they broke training camp? After Rex Ryan's F-bombs and their other boasts that kept turning up on HBO's "Hard Knocks," Darrelle Revis' contract holdout and speeding ticket, the Ines Sainz harassment incident, Braylon Edwards' arrest on a DUI charge and a season-opening loss to the Ravens, the Jets (5-2) have actually kept their word to tighten things up.
Will it last?
For now, the only talk around the Jets is about football heading into their game Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
"Yeah, well, we didn't start the season out this way -- and I hope this lasts," Jets guard Brandon Moore said Thursday with a small smile. "It's good not to have the distractions going like we had at the start of the year. For awhile there it seemed we had something going on every day. ... After everything that happened and then all attention it gets because we're in New York, it just gets to the point where you don't want to be 'that guy' or the next guy that's in trouble or the next guy that gets shipped out."
Weatherford looked like a possible candidate for the waiver wire Sunday when the punter surprised Westhoff and Jets head coach Rex Ryan by unilaterally taking off from the Jets' own 20 and getting only 17½ of the 18 yards he needed for a first down. That set up Green Bay for an eventual field goal in a game in which the Jets never scored.
Knowing Westhoff's famous temper -- remember how the "Hard Knocks" cameras caught him watching a player screw up a drill and then unsentimentally grousing, "I'd cut that guy right now for an extra day off" -- the Jets didn't make Westhoff available to talk to reporters immediately after Sunday's loss.
But when everyone showed up back at the Jets' Florham Park practice facility Monday and the media entered the locker room, Weatherford's gear and name plate were still at his locker, if not yet the punter himself.
When his boss, Westhoff, finally met with the press Thursday, he was his typical salty, wisecracking and deadpan self. He panned Weatherford's decision to run ("He shouldn't have done it"), smirked when asked what he said to his punter ("You don't want to know") and disputed once and for all the postgame suggestion that Weatherford has a green light to run a fake punt on his own at anytime.
"There's not any gray area. I call it," Westhoff said.
Then another muttered aside: "He [Weatherford] actually had the longest run of the day for us. I guess that's the good news and the bad news."
Everyone at Westhoff's news conference laughed.
Westhoff scratched the side of his forehead absently and awaited the next question.
Westhoff's repaired sense of humor goes to show, while the Jets team has been better behaved lately it hasn't turned boring.
The coaching staff lit into the team Sunday, then again Monday about how "unacceptable" they played in the Green Bay game. By Thursday, there didn't seem to be much of a hangover shadowing the Jets, even though the loss snapped a five-game winning streak and left them a game behind front-running New England in the AFC East. Stay tuned. The Lions are much improved and dangerous, and the Jets' offense was dreadful against the Packers. If the Jets lose for the second straight week, the mood around Florham Park will change quickly, and the pressure will tick up.
Even if that all happens, linebacker Bart Scott doesn't see the circus returning to the Jets anytime soon.
"It's good that now we can just focus on football and trying to get better every day," Scott said Thursday. "Now that we're past the initial shock of 'Hard Knocks' and people thinking we were a bunch of cocky players, I think hopefully now people can see that this team is dedicated to winning. And not only that -- we're dedicated to each other."
Any week that reining in your punter's overeagerness is the biggest story is probably a good week.
When Weatherford finally materialized on Thursday, he said he'd gotten Westhoff's message about who's in charge of the Jets' fake punt calls going forward.
"It's always in the game plan. ... But I'll probably wait for more of a verbal OK to do it next time," he said.
In other words, time to move along, people.
Nothing crazy to see here.
Circus comes to several teams, but the Jets' ruckus involves ... the punter?